The situation in Afghanistan is escalating with every news outlet and journalist covering the crisis. We have seen protests by Afghans inside Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan, each trying to get their voices heard, leaving no stone unturned in the hope that someone, somewhere in the world will listen and “stop the Taliban”.
Amongst these Activists, are three brave British Afghan Women who are on a hunger strike, sitting directly outside UK Parliament since 9 September 2021. They have been completely ignored by the Government and I needed to hear what they had to say. I spoke to them on 12 September 2021. I was not expecting much dialogue as they had been starving for four days. Their lips were dry and peeling, they hardly had energy to stand but to my surprise after speaking to them I soon realised that whilst the hunger had weakened them physically, it most certainly had not weakened their spirits nor the fire in their hearts.
They are ordinary British Citizens, like me and you, but they clearly have extraordinary courage and a phenomenal moral compass. To the extent that, it has broken their hearts leaving their children at home. Yesterday was the birthday of one of the lady’s son but she missed it because she was sitting outside the Parliament waiting for Boris Johnson to hear their message. Today was the first day of school run, but again they missed it, waiting for Mr Johnson to respond to them. Alongside their professional careers, they are also completing top-up qualification but they are missing vital course deadlines because they are waiting for Mr Johnson’s Government to acknowledge them.
What is their message? They want human rights, women’s rights and freedom from civilian brutality in Afghanistan. They do not care who is in power but they care about how they use that power. They want the UK Government and its ally’s to take action against the racism, sexism and terrorism that is happening in Afghanistan today. Their message is for humanity. They say this type of inhumanity cannot be allowed in our current times, this cannot be recent history. Civilians cannot be the victims of such heinous crimes and the world act as spectators. Today it is Afghanistan tomorrow it can be here, in the UK.
The ladies seemed particularly concerned about Women in Afghanistan. They say the Taliban cannot be trusted; they are continuously changing their word. One-minute they say they are willing to about women’s rights and the next minute they deny women political recognition in parliament. The Ministry of Woman’s Affairs in Afghanistan has been closed, Women are separated and segregated in education from men, they have killed Women including the pregnant police officer who was murdered in front of her husband and children. They tell me that the Taliban say that women can work but if they cannot get a proper education then what “work” do they refer to? The ladies tell me that if the brave Women in Afghan can stand before a Talib’s gun and protest for her rights, then a hunger strike in comparison seems trivial to them. This is not an attack on afghan women — this is an attack on all women they said in a united voice. They say, if we allow this, not raise our voices of concern, if we allow our governments to remain silent and not challenge this shameful page, then we as women will pave the way for our own demise.
I asked them why they chose to go on a hunger strike and not campaign in other ways. They said that they tried everything else, Afghans marched in Afghanistan and abroad but the world did not respond. They petitioned but the world did not respond. They wrote to MPs and the Prime Minister but they did not respond. They personally send a statement to the Parliament on 9 September 2021, informing them of their strike and their message, this too has not received a response. They found themselves pushed to their limits “what else could we have done to get a response?” is what they asked on return. It is clear to me that the laissez-faire attitude of UK Government and the entire world’s silence on this crisis is to be blamed for these three British Women’s despair.
I asked how much longer can they stay on strike outside UK Parliament, they said with certainty and unity “until we are heard”. I certainly heard them. I asked “what if you are taken by ambulances” they said they will refuse medical care, they will continue until they are heard. This is a message they are willing to die for.
I asked what response have they had from people. They said it is the peoples positive and supportive response that has given them physical energy. They have been overwhelmed by the number of supporters. It is clear to them that they are not alone in this message. They say that British Citizens of all genders, races and religions feel the pain and inhumanity happening in Afghanistan, “most women cry when they see us and hear our message”, but they tell them “not to cry, we need to be strong as women and stand up for our rights”. I would be so bold to describe these three ladies as the Suffragettes of our times. Women are clearly a force to be reckoned with and the UK Parliament needs to hear their message.
I asked what response they have had from the Parliament, they said “just automated responses, everyday”. Honestly this did not come as a shock to me. The UK Government has completely abandoned not just the Afghans is Afghanistan but also their very own, tax paying British Afghan Citizens. These British women have been starving since 9 September and no-one has responded to them.
I asked what their message is for British Afghans, they said “to unite and write”. They explained that Afghans need to unite regardless of sect, religion or beliefs and today Afghanistan needs them. They need to write to their Government, their MP, and the PM.
These three, British, working mums clearly have a powerful message to tell, one of peace and hope. They have been starving since 9 September 2021 for this message. We are urging the UK Parliament to recognise these women and to agree to further talks with them.
Susan Mateen is Head of Campaigns at Afghan Council Great Britain, a lawyer turned consultant and British Afghan Resettlement Activist.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Afghan Council of Great Britain.